Uninvited Guests for the Holidays

Before the title makes you think of friends and family, let us consider our garden-variety pest that may invade homes throughout the holidays.

By late fall, most outdoor insect home invaders have settled down for a long winters nap, either outdoors or in your home. Yet it is still a good time to seal, caulk and repair cracks, crevices and gaping thresholds as a way to keep pest invaders – and cold winter air – out of your home.   If any spiders, ladybugs, stinkbugs, or flies, appear in your home, they are more nuisance than harmful and vacuuming them up often takes care of the problem.

Chances are that you have also already brought in your outdoor plants to overwinter.  Realize that you may have unknowingly brought in “hitchhikers” – pest and diseases – that are often hidden in the leaves or soil of plants. While overwintering your summer plants, keep them in a “quarantine” for at least a month to guard against passing disease or insects to other houseplants. Routinely check your plants for insects such as aphids, mealybugs, white flies, scale, spider mites and thrips. If there is a problem, refer to UK publication ENTFACT-406: Houseplant Insect Control to find easy, non-toxic ways to remove pest.  Remove and destroy leaves with dark spots, lesions, and those that are yellowing as this may indicate bacterial/fungal leaf spot diseases.  Be careful not to overwater plants or leave plants in standing water as root/stem-rot diseases, as well gnats find very wet soil conditions or standing water perfect for proliferation.


Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org

Holiday decorating can bring its own pest potentials. Poinsettias, Christmas cactus and other holiday plants can bring unwelcome guests hidden within their leaves or soil. When considering a plant for purchase, gently disturb and scrutinize the leaves and soil surface. If you see tiny pest crawling or flying around leave that plant at the store.  Automatically pass by plants that have yellowed or spotted leaves and any plant that looks sickly.  If you suspect pests or diseases on the plant, do not buy the plant. With any purchased or gifted plant, follow the same observation procedures and separate from other plants once in your home. For care, follow the new plant’s care tag instructions.

Fresh Christmas trees, whether container stock or cut, can yield “lively “surprises. Retailers generally vigorously shake trees to dislodge dead needles and hidden pests, but, while uncommon, dormant insects or spiders on trees can become active, or eggs may hatch in the warmth of your holiday home. Resist the impulse to use insecticides on your tree, instead vacuum any fallen pests and dispose of them.  Vacuuming should take care of any lingering pest (or fallen needles) after the holidays as well.

A wood burning fire completes the perfect holiday setting, but with a cozy fire comes pest potential. Firewood from dead or fallen trees can contain pests and stacked wood continues to attract other pest such as ants, beetles, borers, termites and even roaches.  To avoid unwanted guest, resist stacking wood against your home and inspect your outdoor firewood stack regularly. Closely look at logs before you bring them indoors and bring in only what you intend to burn right away. The longer you hold wood inside, the more likely insects will emerge as they warm up. Avoid treating firewood piles with pesticides as hazardous fumes can be produced as wood burns.

Being aware and following these guidelines should keep your home pest-free for the holidays and beyond.


Firewood can harbor insects. Robert Trickel, North Carolina Forest Service, Bugwood.org


UK Cooperative Extension: ENTFACT 406: Houseplant Insect Control

Penn State Univeristy: Plant Disease Facts: Poinsettia Diseases

Purdue University: Insects in Firewood

Submitted by Sharon P. Flynt, Agent for Horticulture, Scott Co. Cooperative Extension